A Potential Future of Work… Where You Get Paid Not to Work

A Potential Future of Work… Where You Get Paid Not to Work

There really aren’t any professions completely safe from automation or Artificial Intelligence. Most visionaries will advise you to become resilient, moldable, and creative to ensure a job in the future of work. However, there’s a small, but growing, sect of Tech Moguls saying the only way we overcome automation is to provide everyone with a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

In other words, free money.

The Basics of Universal Basic Income

Imagine that your income is a pizza. Under Universal Basic Income, the government provides everyone with pizza dough and marinara sauce. No toppings. No directions on how to use the dough and sauce. Just free dough and sauce.

Where would countries get that kind of dough? Some analysts estimate it would cost between $1.5 trillion and $3 trillion for one year of Universal Basic Income in the US.

Right now, there are only ideas floating around about funding UBI, such as Carbon taxes, income taxes, value-added taxes, a decrease in military spending, and resource-based revenues.

More than likely, the companies that are greatly benefiting from the future of work – where algorithms and robots produce everything – will be responsible for a large amount of funding.

So, even though Tech Behemoths such as Google, Apple, Facebook, IBM, Tesla, Microsoft, etc… are siphoning jobs in the future of work. They’ll be redistributing the fruits of their technological advancement.

Hold on a second. This sounds a lot like Socialism.

Yes, there are similarities. But, ironically, the people that will be on the receiving end of this immense wealth gap – Zuckerberg and Facebook, Musk and Tesla, Branson and Virgin Group, among others – are the ones rooting for Universal Basic Income.

In a way, aren’t we just getting money from these companies so we can spend it back with them? That sounds counterintuitive. Who actually benefits from this?

Impacting the Future of Work

The intentions of Universal Basic Income is providing a safety net ensuring everyone has enough to survive. However, to live solely on UBI, well, you might metaphorically and literally be eating raw dough dipped in marinara sauce.

To get extra toppings on your pizza and an oven to cook it in, you’ll have to take risks.

Those that truly win under UBI are the ones that understand the future of work is one where you must harness the childhood spirit you once had with new interests. They’ll take the opportunity to try the idea they talked themselves out of long ago, or pursue the dream that got cut short because they had to “grow up” and get a real job.

Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, said UBI, “Doesn’t have to be much, but giving people even a very small safety net would unlock a huge amount of entrepreneurialism.” Ray Kurzweil, in-house futurist at Google said, “People who are no longer forced to work for a monthly paycheck could instead pursue their passions.”

This instantly makes me think of my aunt who grew up painting almost every day and still gets vivid images in her head. But, for the past 35 years, hasn’t touched a brush because she works 14 hour days to put three kids through college. UBI would allow her to cut back on working and get back to the canvas.

Under the UBI regime, people can get back to living their childhood passions. Which means the future of work may not even feel like working in the traditional sense.

If you are anything like me, you have plenty of dreams you’d like to pursue and ideas you’d like to try that would be way more enjoyable than a 9-5 job.

So, how do we get to UBI?

The Horizon of UBI

Universal Basic Income is a very progressive idea and once again brings forth images of Socialism. But, if we can get around that mental blockade, you’ll realize that there are much more pressing issues to think about regarding the idea.

Most importantly, if people are getting paid to not work, that’s a lot of idle time on everyone’s hands. And as my grandma always says, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.”

Not everyone will choose to follow their passion and you don’t want those folks watching every YouTube video in existence all day, or getting into illegal behavior. Many people find meaning in anchoring their day around an eight-hour work schedule. They must find new areas of purpose to keep busy. Personally, I think UBI provides a great opportunity for humanitarian work to reach new heights.

Realistically, no matter how many numbers you crunch or speculations you speculate, the only way to truly know what will happen under UBI…is to actually put people on it. That’s why many proponents are beginning to run case studies.

Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator seed accelerator, is running a UBI experiment in Oakland, CA – giving 100 families around $1,500 per month. Finland has a pilot program for 2,000 people, which has drastically reduced stress levels. And Kenya is already seeing promising results from their twelve-year UBI experiment.

The UBI wheels are turning. And I have a feeling once it gets going, there will be little in the way to stop it.

Choosing Momentum

Like anything controversial, you can be with it or against it. You can fight to make this a reality or do everything in your power to stop its momentum.

But, there’s actually a third option. That is, being against something but putting your energy elsewhere.

As Frances E. Willard, women’s suffragist, once said, “The world is wide, and I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.”

Why waste time in an argument when you can put that energy toward productive, momentous means? This doesn’t mean to not get in any conflict. But, rather choose your battles wisely and don’t engage if it’s not all that important to you.

If Universal Basic Income is a battle you’d like to join, please shoot me an email with your concerns, your hopes, your doubts, or your wishes. Thanks for taking the time to read this week’s Quick Theories!

  1. Hey, Terry,
    I’ve created my own UBI. It’s called Retirement. I am planning to do all those creative things I’ve wanted to do in my retirement. I have to be careful to avoid the ravages of aging, but the stimulation will help.

    1. @Chris
      Yes, and that’s true, but I’m 23 and so having UBI could enable me to travel a little bit easier. My grandmother saw Europe finally in her 60s, and she had trouble getting around. This is one of those things that would be better to do sooner than later, that way you don’t need as many accommodations. Being 23, I can take a red-eye and go to work the next day and survive, which isn’t something I’ll be able to do forever, so some things would be nice to accomplish.

      The pizza metaphor is the perfect way to describe this, I have been struggling to find a good metaphor. Thank you!

  2. IMHO, if someone needs a $1,000 UBI welfare check each month to unlock their inner Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou or Steven Hawking, they really don’t have the chops to be a huge success in the first place.

    No one is talking about the incredible inflation that will arise when everyone has an extra grand to spend each month, either. Everything from rents to groceries to clothing will go up in price with the increased demand and ability to pay.

    But I DO agree with you that if Tech is responsible for creating a world where people don’t have (or need) a 9 to 5 job, then let those companies foot the bill for UBI. See how long out takes Zuck and his gang to change their tune once that idea is floated.

    1. I don’t believe the UBI would be in addition to your prior income. You would receive the UBI as your income so that you don’t have to work when automation takes over. Having UBI would allow for people who want to be dreamers the chance to do so without having to work all the time. (Some people have to work a lot just to get by). I am young and find myself chasing my dreams. I am struggling a little financially, but I am young so I feel I can afford. Especially if it means making my dream in the end. Some people do not see that or they feel it is too late by the time they realize and are stuck working a 9-5 until retirement. Could you imagine if even the people who were the most scared to take a leap did? Because with UBI you wouldn’t have a choice, you would either chase your dreams or be unproductive/counterproductive. But there are already counterproductive people in the world so what’s the harm. I think UBI is a great solution for automation.

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